Around the Mountains: Truckee rejects juice from Utah coal plant
TRUCKEE, Calif. Three months ago few people in Truckee knew where their electricity came from. They still may not know, but one thing is for certain: In coming years it will not be produced at a new coal-burning power plant proposed for Utah, about 100 miles southwest of Salt Lake City.In a case that drew broad attention on the West Coast, directors of the Truckee Donner Public Utility District rejected a 50-year contract for electricity from the plant. Proponents had said the contract would have yielded a dependable source of electricity at a good price for the district, which is facing sharply increased demand as the population grows.But California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called the proposed contract a clear attempt to circumvent a new California law. “This contract will undoubtedly compromise the progress California made this year by signing into law one of the most sweeping greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the world.”The law, which takes effect in January, will prohibit California utilities from purchasing electricity from outside the state if made in ways not allowed inside the state. In other words, the law is aiming at traditional coal-burning power plants.Burning of coal produces more greenhouse gases than does burning of natural gas. However, coal is far more plentiful, and hence the electricity is far cheaper than electricity produced by burning natural gas.Truckee’s Sierra Sun was filled with debate on the issue for several weeks. “This mountain ski town can continue to depend on coal burned hundreds of miles away in Utah for electric power, or it can choose to follow a less risky path and follow the lead of progressive southern California cities by rejecting coal-fired power,” wrote one V. Jon White.One of the utility district board members, Ron Hemig, told the Sacramento Bee that the outpouring of community objections took him by surprise. “Until a month ago, we never heard anything from our public except ‘keep rates down,'” Hemig said. “The community never spoke to the board ever … on the subject of coal.”Just what will provide the electricity for the 12,000 consumers of the Truckee Donner district is unclear. The debate drew attention to the potential for greater energy conservation but also to potential creation of alternative energy sources such as from biomass, wind, and small hydroelectric installations. Truckee currently imports all of its energy.”Coal should be the last resort, not the first. It is the dirtiest source of power,” editorialized the Bee. “Change will happen one decision at a time, sometimes in big ways, sometimes small,” the paper added. “On Wednesday night, Truckee did its part.”Jet owner concedes defeat in airport caseKETCHUM, Idaho The California businessmen who tried to land his 737-type Boeing airplane at the airport near Ketchum and Sun Valley has finally conceded defeat by paying $147,000 in attorney fees.Airport authorities had told Ronald Tutor that his airplane exceeded the airport’s 95,000-pound weight limit for aircraft, and said they would attempt to have his pilot’s license revoked. He then sued, claiming violation of his constitutional rights and that his ability to travel was impaired. But a federal district court judge ruled that Tutor was at worst inconvenienced. He reportedly owns a smaller Gulfstream jet that is allowed to land at the airport, says the Idaho Mountain Express. Helicopters carry avalanche locatorsSALT LAKE CITY, Utah All the statistics show that once caught in a larger avalanche, one’s chances of survival are, at best, middlin’. Many victims get battered to death. But even for those who survive the tumble but end up buried, the time is short for recovery. Beyond 15 minutes, the odds of survival go south precipitously.Wearing a transceiver and having companions nearby who are similarly equipped and also have probes and shovels and know how to use them is the best bet, but that only rarely occurs. With that in mind, several helicopters based in Utah’s Wasatch Front now have locator systems that could provide more rapid detection.The Associated Press reports a demonstration of the technology, which has been in use for several years in Europe. “Helicopters flew a short hop to a snow field to pick up signals from buried avalanche beacons,” reports AP. “They appeared to do the job in minutes.”Dean Cardinale, president of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, noted that it can take ground rescue groups an hour to reach an avalanche if traveling across dangerous terrain or in severe weather.Two eco-arsonists at Vail enter guilty pleasVAIL, Colo. The long mystery about the fires on Vail Mountain on Oct. 14, 1998, ended earlier this year when several people in Oregon admitted the arson that caused $12 million damage, including the loss of a restaurant called Two Elk. Two of the people, Chelsea Gerlach and Stanislas Meyerhoff, both 29, pleaded guilty on Dec. 14 to the Colorado fires as well as a string of other arson and vandalism in the West. In e-mail messages sent to various media, the fires at Vail had been credited to an anonymously-faced group called the Earth Liberation Front.At the time, there was some speculation that others in the Vail area, and even the ski area operator itself, might have set the fires. The pair, however, confirmed that federal authorities had been right in suspecting radical environmentalists.Since his arrest, Meyerhoff has renounced the ELF. In return for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors are recommending he be sentenced to 15 years, 8 months in prison. Gerlach Prosecutors have recommended a 10-year sentence for Gerlach.Gerlach said she had been motivated by a “deep sense of despair and anger at the deteriorating state of the global environment.”The Vail fires were called the most destructive act known to be committed by environmental activists in U.S. history, and came just as work had begun on a major expansion of ski terrain the largest ever in North America into national forest land where evidence of the endangered Canada lynx had been found. The destruction was credited in an e-mail message to a group called the Earth Liberation Front.In a story published in August, Rolling Stone Magazine says that such acts of environmental protests were labeled by the FBI in 2003 in the same category as attacks by Al Qaeda, despite the fact that environmental activists avoided human lives. “In a post-9/11 world where every FBI agent wants to catch a terrorist, an ‘eco-terrorist’ is better than nothing,” said the magazine.But even at the time of the arson in Vail, the acts of violence were branded as wasteful by those who had been working on behalf of lynx the longest. Taking a longer view, Rolling Stone spoke with Mike Roselle, co-founder of Earth First! and the Ruckus Society, both of them civil-disobedience groups.”This is such a waste of good people,” said Rosellee of the ELF arsonists. “I’ll bet I trained some of these people in nonviolent civil disobedience, and we taught them that history shows that radical movements that are violent make people paranoid, isolated and easy for the feds to pick off.”
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